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Shelter Remains Top Priority In UN Quake Relief

Shelter Remains Top Priority In UN Quake Relief In Pakistan

More than two weeks after an earthquake devastated northern Pakistan, plunging temperatures and sheer desperation are driving survivors out of their wrecked mountain villages into a rising number of camps, the United Nations refugee agency reported today as it rushed in more supplies to people who have lost their homes.

At the same time, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there is just a three-week window of opportunity to deliver assistance to mountainous quake-hit areas before the first snowfall. In addition, severe weather, with heavy rain, is forecast to hit the area in the next three to four days.

So far, the official death toll is more than 51,000 and the number of injured more than 74,000. These numbers are expected to increase still further. Thousands of people remain isolated in remote valley areas. Exact numbers remain unknown and the humanitarian community and Government are focusing on determining how many people still need to be reached, OCHA added.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which over the weekend sent in 1,500 tents, 4,500 blankets, 2,200 plastic sheets, 3,000 jerry cans and 700 kitchen sets to affected areas in Balakot, Batagram and Muzaffarabad, is aiming to set up a secure camp environment for around 500,000 of those made homeless.

"Newcomers are arriving every day. Some of them are from the local areas but many of them have come from as far as Muzaffarabad after hearing about aid in Balakot," Blasé Kojcevsky, a camp manager in UNHCR's emergency team in Balakot, said.

In all, more than 15,000 UNHCR family tents, 220,000 blankets, some 70,000 plastic sheets, 15,000 kitchen sets, 31,000 jerry cans, 2,000 stoves and 5,000 lanterns are being rushed to Pakistan for the relief effort. The agency already had an additional 4,700 tents in Pakistan when the earthquake struck.

OCHA said shelter remained the overriding priority, both for homeless families and patients admitted to field medical facilities. Although 62,000 tents overall have already been delivered and some 200,000 tents will be in country by the start of the winter, they will shelter less than half the homeless families, and will not cover the needs of field hospitals for post-operative patients, it added.

Moreover, approximately 50 per cent of the mountainous terrain is unsuitable for tents. Other creative solutions are being worked on, using local knowledge and available materials.

"Having to wait days for basic medical assistance or undergoing operations and treatment in poorly equipped or partially-destroyed hospitals has increased the rate of life-threatening infections and gangrene," OCHA said. "The breakdown of safe water supplies and sanitation has also increased the risk of diarrhoeal diseases and other outbreaks."

Nearly 500,000 people have received UN World Food Programme (<"http://www.wfp.org/english/?ModuleID=137&Key=1851">WFP) high-energy food rations. Food supplies are now reaching the main hubs, and then moved on to remote locations by mule or on foot, or are collected by survivors and taken home.

But over 1 million people still need food. Affected communities generally have some food stocks, as they are normally accumulated for winter. But without proper shelter, these stocks will be destroyed or will deteriorate, OCHA warned. With disrupted roads, it is difficult or impossible for many affected people to replace supplies through regular means.

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